Our state library conference as well as my first virtual conference, ICPSR’s OR meeting, are next week, and I am as giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve. Certainly no conference ever lives up to expectations (even Computers in Libraries), but I love attending them (I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it!). In the spirit of mad conference prep, here are my top 10 reasons why I love conferences. Feel free to add your reasons!
10. Travel: This has less to do with attending conferences than with getting to conferences. I’m the rare bird who loves the process of traveling. I love the build up and preparation, the early morning departures and the late night arrivals. I love the waiting and the movement. Granted, I once loved air travel a lot more, but a large part of me is excited about the process of traveling and nothing more. Conferences simply give me a destination.
9. Swag-bringers: When I first started attending conferences, I didn’t really take interest in the vendors. I don’t enjoy taking things I don’t need and I especially don’t need post-it notes or more pens. (Sarah Glassmeyer, a University of Kentucky law librarian, once suggested they should give out Advil, which is brilliant truth.)
I needed a couple of years in my job to realize the importance of the swag-bringers. You can ask them anything. Instead of having to send a long complicated email about how to do/fix/understand something, you can just make a list prior to the next conference and they will answer. And they reward you with swag. Actually they like you better if you ask questions before taking the swag. I think you get even better swag. Be nice to your swag-bringers; you will learn lots.
8. New places Oh yes. You know we all skip out on that least interesting session to go sight-see. The last day of Computers in Libraries is always a ghost town because everyone is packed into the Washington Monument. As a presenter, I’ve been dismayed by last day light attendance, but it is a fact of life. That’s why we like to go to conferences in interesting places and not in Hickory, NC. Oh wait…
I kid, I kid.
7. Old Friends: I should be a better friend and not use conferences as a means to meet up with former classmates and colleagues, but we are all busy people. And conferences are by far the best way to meet up with your BFF librarians from your past. In addition to catching up, you have plenty of fuel for discussion–from that awesome session to the crazy vendor antics at the bar to your crazy antics after the bar…
My favorite tactic is for everyone to spread out and attend different sessions. Even if I get the snoozer, my friends will have lots of exciting stuff to tell me about the other sessions. Plus, I am notoriously bad at picking sessions. If you go to a conference with me, don’t ever let me pick the sessions. You will regret it. Anyone have any great tips for choosing the most awesome session ever? Please let me know because I need some.
6. New friends: I love meeting new people especially those in completely different jobs from mine. Hanging out with your polar opposite provides invaluable perspective and insight. After listening to public library problems, I’m always a bit more comfortable with the relatively secure position of the academic library. You certainly realize how petty or stale the debates can get in your own world. Plus, these new friends often become old friends, especially if you attend the same conference frequently (Hello, Computers in Libraries).
5. Discussions: Maybe my Generation X age is showing through here, but I’m not a huge fan of listserv discussions. Or maybe it is my Millennial tendencies because I tend to lose track of the topic being discussed (even with gmail so nicely threading things). Or maybe I feel like I am wasting time reading a discussion about the new APA when I need to be planning the class I’m going to teach in 5 minutes.
I don’t know, but I certainly prefer bringing these discussions to conferences and having them in person. One of my favorite experiences at ACRL this year was being in a focus group discussion with other librarians under 35. It was brilliant because we were told to let it fly and we did. Because no one was taking tabs on who said what the ideas were free and the criticism was constructive. While in most of my experiences these discussions have been informal (usually a group in the back of the bar at 2:00 am), I have high hopes for the future of round tables, discussion groups, and unconferences. They all seem to have the same goal of getting people together to just talk.
4. Learning: My boss probably would like this higher in the list, but if you read the rest I think you’ll understand why it is number four. I love to learn about new things and while formal conference sessions can be hit or miss sometimes, it is undeniable that I learn a tremendous amount when attending a conference. From small groups to the exhibit hall to formal presentations, conferences are about the creation and dissemination of information. I certainly love that.
3. Rejuvenation: I appreciate my students, faculty, and colleagues, but at times I need a break from all of them. The beautiful thing about conferences is being able to recharge and refocus on your profession. A political science faculty member once told me never to check my work email during a conference. His reasoning was that you need the time to rejuvenate your interest in your field, to step back and learn and to remember the things that made you excited about the profession in the first place.
I have yet to follow his advice (although I set up an away message) because I worry that a patron may have a question only I can answer. But I am getting better at it. Luckily the web version of our crummy email system is at times uncheckable. At least that way I don’t have to feel guilty about allowing myself freedom and time to think.
2.Community: The past two years I have attended the annual conference for the International Association of Social Science Information Service and Technology, the primary conference for data librarians and archivists. A common refrain of attendees is “I love being surrounded by people who understand what I do.” Working in a niche position like data librarianship can be somewhat isolating especially when your colleagues don’t understand your work. Conferences can provide that community and support.
1. Bringing it all back: After it is all over, we need to bring it back to our libraries. I firmly believe this. To support the process of bringing it back our library has a Professional Development Blog and conference attendees provide informal brownbags. Sometimes it can take a few months to get your blog entry posted, but eventually is better than never. In addition to formal dissemination, it is our duty to convey information in informal ways. If I hear a great idea about another library’s use of twitter, then I need to let my colleagues know. This sharing of information is how we ensure that our libraries develop and adapt to the future.
Well, those are my reasons. Any others?
Oh, if you are attending the NCLA conference you should blog about your sessions. Contact information is available on the official blog. If you aren’t going, you can follow the events there or check in here!